Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a world where, instead of bragging about how little sleep we need to get through the day, we instead raved about how recharged we felt after eight solid hours under the covers?
Instead, we face jam-packed schedules, tight deadlines, instant updates and not enough hours in the day. In a recent interview, actress Elizabeth Banks summed up the philosophy of many Americans faced with these struggles. “I do like to work,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m very much a sleep-when-you’re-dead person.”
We hear this expression all the time, and to many it’s just in jest, but at its root is a dangerous and scary thought. "Janis Joplin said that," James Maas, Ph.D., former fellow, professor and chairman of psychology at Cornell University, who coined the term "power nap" in his 1998 book "Power Sleep" tells The Huffington Post. "And she died when she was 27."
Making work or family (or partying!) a priority higher than sleep can up your risk for serious health conditions, like heart disease, impair your immune system, cause inflammation and hurt your memory and mood. Adopters of this "sleep can wait" mentality may not be putting it off as long as they think, however. A 2010 study published in the journal SLEEP found that regularly sleeping less than six hours a night was linked to an early death.
"In my mind, the people who follow that philosophy should have all their paperwork in order," Michael Decker, Ph.D., an associate professor at Georgia State University and spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, tells The Huffington Post. "Short sleep does not mean a person's tough."
Unfortunately, an attitude of pride around short sleep prevails. It will take some time and effort to change this, but in the meantime, Decker and Maas have helped us to decode some of the more prevalent messages about sleep. Click through the common quotes and sayings below, then tell us others you say or hear in the comments.
This saying also harkens back to viewing sleep as wasted time. Yes, there are times when if you were to snooze you could lose, says Maas, like if you're behind the wheel of a car. But in general, if you <em>don't</em> snooze, you lose, he says. "If sleep is unnecessary, it's the biggest mistake evolution ever made." But there's another way to think about it, in light of recent reserach linking sleep and obesity. As HuffPost Healthy Living <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/01/sleep-obesity-genes-fat_n_1465483.html" target="_hplink">reported earlier this month</a>: <blockquote>"The longer you sleep, the less important genetics become in determining what you weigh," explained Dr. Nathaniel Watson, co-director of the University of Washington Sleep Disorders Center. "Does this mean you can sleep yourself thin?" Watson asked. "Probably not. But you can sleep yourself to a point where environmental factors, like diet and activity, are more important in determining your body weight than genetics."</blockquote>
"If you go to bed early and get the right amount of sleep, that enhances your health," explains Decker, as it allows for adequate time for restorative, deep sleep. Getting enough sleep will also guarantee <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/12/sleep-deprivation-productivity-harvard_n_1334877.html" target="_hplink">a more productive day</a>, which in turn could lead to wealth. And "short sleep can impair decision making and memories, so the better we sleep the better cognitive function is," he says. Looks like Franklin was right!
There is some truth in the idea of <a href="http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c6614.full?sid=f12d1b75-86cc-4bed-a06b-9ebc4f337b05" target="_hplink">waking up prettier</a>, according to a 2010 study published in the <em>British Medical Journal</em>. Researchers photographed people after a good night's sleep and after a period of sleep deprivation, then asked respondants to rate the photos on health, attractiveness and tiredness. The photos of sleep-deprived people received lower scores across the board. It may be partially due to the fact that while asleep, your body goes to work <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/25/beauty-sleep-skin_n_1229259.html" target="_hplink">repairing and healing things like skin cells</a>, YouBeauty reported, and not getting enough sleep can lead to early signs of aging, says Decker. People who say they need beauty sleep are right to recognize the fact that they look and feel better after a night's rest, he says.
"Babies and children spend much more time in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/sleep-stages-what-happens-during-sleep_n_1297941.html" target="_hplink">slow-wave sleep</a> than adults," explains Decker. That's the stage when "the brain is least responsive to external stimulation," he says. So sleeping like a baby -- as long as it's for seven to nine hours, rather than all day like a newborn -- is a sleep goal to aspire to. "It's being able to sleep and be completely undisturbed regardless of what's happening in the environment," he says. Sounds good to us!
"It gets back to this idea that we're not productive when we're sleeping," says Decker, that sleep is wasted or lost time. "Many people try to avoid sleep to get more out of life, and in fact in doing so they're probably shortening their lifespan." "We know that sleep deprivation causes irritability, anxiety, weight gain, depression, and contributes to a high risk of hypertension, diabetes, stroke," says Maas. "To not value sleep is to not value life."
The saying "sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite" may date back to the days of the Plague, says Decker, but no matter its origins, is simply a wish of good sleep today. Maas offers another explanation: Soldiers who had to take shifts sleeping in hammocks had to adjust the ropes tying their portable beds to nearby trees or walls, he says, especially if a heavier soldier was due for a rest.
As much as we'd like to be able to recommend sleeping until you can't sleep anymore, it is possible to overdo it on the zzz's. In fact, the <a href="http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=27780" target="_hplink">same study</a> that found short sleep to point to an earlier death found similar results for people who regularly slept nine or 10 hours a night when their bodies would be just fine on seven. And, like sleeping less than six hours a night, sleeping more than eight hours a night is also <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/sleep-heart-problems-too-much-too-little_n_1380730.html" target="_hplink">linked to an increased risk of heart problems</a>, according to a March study. <br><br> While some people are genetically longer sleepers, Decker says, long sleep can also be a sign that there's something wrong, like sleep apnea. For those people, nighttime sleep "is so disruptive, they need to sleep longer to try to compensate for interruptions that occur during the night," he says.
This feel-good saying is sort of like prescribing "Take two Aspirin and call me in the morning," says Decker. But there is <em>some</em> truth to it. "Sleep restores body and brain cells, we absolutely know that," says Maas. "Sleep is absolutely critical to health and well-being, the evidence is overwhelming."
Night-owls can relax; this one's a myth -- as long as you're still meeting your nightly sleep requirements, says Maas. It's not <em>when</em> you go to sleep but going to sleep (and waking up) around the same time every day that really makes a difference, he explains.
For more on sleep, click here.